Dee couldn’t help but smile as Faylen walked down the aisle radiating happiness. The elven woman looked so beautiful in the elaborate red and white dress. She seemed to be filled with life and joy as her parents escorted her towards the altar where the priestess would officiate the ceremony. Faylen’s father’s smile seemed a little cramped but her mother’s smile and joy seemed genuine. Even if the smiles of most of Faylen’s relatives showed were a little forced, they still smiled and at least pretended to be happy.
In general, most of Faylen’s relatives were happy for Faylen, although they didn’t quite approve of the circumstances. It was just that they were more scared of the weird but entrancing being standing near the altar as support for Faylen. They didn’t really care about the Tree of Life incident as much as they were frightened by the stern talking to that Dee and Faylen’s brother Lothar, the grandmaster of the order, had given them. The duo had made it quite clear how miserable their fate would be if they expressed any displeasure during the celebration. Dee gave a small chuckle at the thought of all the threats they had used. Lothar was quite inventive in coming up with various ways to cause dread in people. She was quite sure that she would not be able to torture their souls for a thousand years, but they didn’t need to know that.
Despite Faylen’s dress being a rather form hugging one, it showed no sign of her pregnancy just yet. That little bit of news had sparked another incident. Faylen’s female relatives, her mother especially, had squealed with happiness, while all the close male relatives were already searching for their weapons in preparation for hunting poor Taeral down. Lothar had made them all back down, though only because he wanted to be the one to have a little word with Taeral himself. Dee had not been privy to what was said but Taeral had looked a little green by the time they returned.
Still, the poor man seemed to be in one piece at the moment. He was also clearly madly in love. The love was practically pouring out from his eyes as he watched Faylen approach the altar. Lothar was watching over him with a small frown as he was fulfilling much the same role Dee was. He was standing in support of Taeral as most of the ranger-general’s relatives were not here. His sister was here, but she was the only one. Taeral didn’t have much family in the first place, and the ones he did have were mostly estranged for various reasons.
Still, the temple was not lacking guests even if neither family was all that large. The Four Winds had filled out the remaining seats and some even had to stay outside. Faylen was rather popular within the community, as she was helpful, patient as a teacher, and most of all a capable holy caster as a templar. She might not have been the most powerful fighter here, but she was great at supporting others and also happened to be a fairly neutral and justice-minded party in case arguments required mediation. Faylen’s father had been giddy with excitement when he realized the temple now held more than a dozen immortals. The fact that one of them would kill him if he misbehaved dampened his mood a bit, but still.
As the ceremony started, a small trickle of melancholy entered Dee’s heart. Faylen was moving on in her life. Dee felt a little jealous, though not in the romantic sense. Faylen would now be spending more and more time with her family and would have less time for Dee. That was only natural, and truth be told Dee also had way too many demands for her time to really spent too much of it with Faylen. Still, it felt a little like another door in life closing in front of her. That didn’t stop her from feeling happy for Faylen of course, just that there was a small bittersweet taste to that happiness.
She also realized that feelings like this were likely not uncommon. Friends often felt something similar when one in their group found a significant other. They felt happy for the friend but mourned the lost time together. It wasn’t that they didn’t wish for their friend to be happy, but that they realized that people moved on and that made them feel melancholic. There was often also a kind of wistful ‘will that ever be me’ kind of thought mixed in. That was true for Dee as well, although she realized that in her case that seemed a little unlikely for now at least. Perhaps when all her struggles were over.
Another interesting thought occurred to her as the ceremony progressed. Strictly speaking, she too had training in performing such ceremonies, although that part of her training with Mazatl had been very quick and cursory at best. As a nominal servant of the deities though, she could have performed the ceremony herself. She wasn’t a priestess of any temple, but she could be considered to be an even higher ranked figure of religious significance with the rank of her blessings. She had no actual interest in going through the rigmarole of such a ceremony, but it was the priest’s job to pray for the deities to bless the union. She could do that much at least.
She bowed her head a bit in a small prayer when the right time came. ‘Lumen and Umbra, I pray for you to bless their marriage.’ She didn’t feel it was appropriate to invoke Death or Eternity in this case. Especially Death.
Usually the prayers performed by the priest or priestess performing the ceremony were just that, ceremonial. Sometimes the gods took enough notice to throw a bit of power at the couple’s way in the form of slightly improved health. A tricksy god or a deity of love and family might inflame the passions of the couple for the coming night. Usually though, nothing major really happened. There might be a flash of light associated as a token of acknowledgment, but that was it.
This time the symbols of Lumen and Umbra floated above the couple, shining a beam of light on them. The priestess performing the ceremony was the most shocked as she had most certainly not prayed to either goddess. Most of the others had at least a small idea of what was going on, while some of them knew exactly why the two deities might be making a showing. Dee rarely made such requests to the two goddesses, so they both answered rather eagerly. The others were not entirely sure of the nature of the blessing granted to the couple, but the two goddesses told Dee directly.
‘I will bless the two with good health and luck in childbearing. Love is not really in my realm, but this much I can do at least.’ Lumen silently voiced in Dee’s mind.
‘I, in turn, will shield them from the eyes of your enemies. Sooner or later some of your enemies will use magical means to try and find ways to hurt you. I will make sure the two are hidden from such means.’ Umbra stated. Her blessing was a little more grim in nature, but perhaps more necessary.
Faylen grabbed Dee’s hand and squeezed it in silent gratitude. She might not know what exactly happened, but she could feel it was a good thing. Taeral also nodded a silent thank you. The priestess looked at Dee a little weird but carried on with the ceremony as if nothing had happened. She was a professional of sorts after all. The rest of the ceremony was uneventful and the lucky couple was showered with flower petals as they walked out of the temple as a husband and wife.
The party afterward got a little rowdy, as some of the guests got a bit more drunk than they perhaps should, but it only made the celebrations more interesting. Kawhena and Lothar had gotten into a friendly battle which ended undecided as the others stopped the two from trashing the place, which would have been inevitable if they got serious. Dee herself found it impossible to get inebriated in any way, as only the drinks of the Coven could accomplish that. Still, she thought it best to spend some time cooling off outside as the party started winding down.
As she looked at the still bright sky, she pulled out the container holding all of the souls from one of the destroyed hells. She had finished absorbing Xinglong’s power and her own transformation into an immortal had finally stabilized. Now was a great time to start absorbing the souls in the container. She would keep the thing on her at all times and slowly absorb them to get the maximum effect. She’d had enough of a quick power increase already, so now it was time to focus on slow and steady improvement instead.
‘Do you think the souls inside will be enough for you to finish your totem?’ Croestia silently asked with some curiosity.
‘Hard to say. There should theoretically be enough souls inside, as the hells were filled with various demons from all I’ve heard. The problem is that I’m not sure if there are enough powerful souls inside. You already know that the higher parts of the pyramid only seem to accept higher ranked souls as skulls. I suspect the very highest levels will only take immortal souls. Even though it’s the top of the pyramid, that’s still a lot of skulls. A billion rank one souls will not help with that.’ Dee replied with a small frown. She had considered the matter as well.
‘It would be nice if the souls were enough. Then you’d only need to achieve rank twelve to open the last door.’ Croestia pointed out. The third door inside Croestia required Dee to finish her totem and become a rank twelve immortal. ‘According to the instructions the old me left behind, what’s behind that door is supposed to help you reach rank thirteen and the kind of level of power where you could stand above most others. That would not be enough to defeat the angels by yourself, but it would be enough for you to gain a measure of security at least when you venture outside Pantheon.’
‘We will have to see. I have a sneaking suspicion I might not be able to stick around Pantheon that long. Things are moving along and fates might not wait until it’s convenient for me.’ Dee simple stated. It would be nice if things went according to the rough plan Croestia had outlined, but things rarely went according to the plan.
“What are you moping around here for?” Nyx’s voice suddenly sounded from behind Dee. Moirai was with her, and Dee had felt their approach long before they got here. She had simply not reacted before now.
“Just thinking about the future.” Dee replied vaguely.
“Oh, events like this can do that. I hope you’re looking forward to our next outing!” Nyx declared eagerly, while Moirai was shaking her head dejected.
“And you!” Nyx turned towards Moirai. “We’re celebrating your ascension, so don’t think you’ll get away as easily as last time. We’re going to get you laid.”
Moirai looked somewhat horrified at the prospect and didn’t quite know what to say. Dee kind of liked to watch her squirm as she thought it would do good for Moirai to loosen up a little, but decided to come to her master’s rescue in this case. “If we’re celebrating her, then we might as well let her have a word in the events. She’s all grown up now and everything.” Dee grinned at the thought of Moirai only becoming grown up upon becoming immortal. The best part was that she had done so after Dee herself.
“Oh don’t you start as well! That reminds me. Have you ever considered trying a male partner? It should be an interesting experience at least.” Nyx turned back towards Dee.
Dee considered for a moment. “The thought has occurred to me. That said, you’re well aware I prefer to be the dominating side in such encounters.”
“Oh, I remember well.” Nyx gave a small shiver of pleasure at the memory. Dee had somewhat rocked her world last time. She had been aware of what could happen with two psions going at it, but that had been somewhat theoretical until then. “Still, you should give it some thought. There are ways to have a male partner and still remain as the dominating one. And while I know how much you value your stronger side nowadays, I have to make a small observation. I have noted that the more dominant a person is otherwise in life, the more they tend to appreciate a moment of surrender in more…shall we say sexual things. That small moment of giving up control and all responsibility can be extremely pleasurable and liberating. Just food for thought. I can also tell you that a normal encounter with a man can be quite fun. Or where do you think Moirai’s egg came from?”
“Moirai’s…egg?” Dee’s thoughts suddenly got a little jumbled at that idea.
“Oh right, no one mentioned this to you before. You might have noticed that we Meilin are a bit on the small side. Even though our children are also small, there’s only so small a child’s head can be before birth. So giving birth normally would be kind of problematic with our small frames. So when we have a little carnal fun like any of the other humanoid races, couple months later we lay an egg and the child finishes the early development that way.” Nyx explained with a small cheeky grin that made Dee doubt a bit if she was serious. Moirai seemed to find no issue with the words though, so she decided to believe it for now. Thought for some odd reason she had a feeling Moirai might be less well versed in this area than even Dee.
With that little shocking piece of news dealt with, Dee decided to give Nyx’s words some consideration, but their little discussion was soon interrupted. A large glaring light had suddenly started glowing in the horizon towards the direction of the second circle. It was as if a new star was being born, except within Pantheon’s atmosphere.
“That looks kind of ominous.” Moirai commented. She had no idea what the light could be.
“Not necessarily. It could be either a good thing or a bad thing. It’s hard to say with Solarians.” Nyx replied. She had more information having lived longer. She knew the light signified the presence of a powerful Solarian showing off their strength. “Either way, I have a feeling this conflict for the spot in the first circle is about to come to an end, one way or another. We too must prepare. This could be an opportunity for us.”
Anastasia stood with her teacher Teresa and a handful of the most powerful warriors, as their forces were arrayed against the combined might of the Spider Cult and the vampires of the Night city. The vampires had come in relatively large numbers as they reached a couple of hundred on the other side, but the real numbers came from the three dozen Death Lords of the Spider Cult. Even though it didn’t seem like it at the moment, everyone present knew the Death Lords would call for their numberless minions once the battle started. A fight against a necromancer was never against just the necromancer. The Death Lords were the most powerful necromancers on Pantheon, so it was obvious their servants would be numerous and powerful. That’s why the Crimson Path had mobilized almost their entire community.
“The cult seems to be serious. I think they’ve sent most of their Death Lords to attack us.” One of the crimson-clad women with the number eight on her shoulder commented. “This is going to be a hard-fought battle. Their ranks are higher than anything the other communities threw at us before.”
Even though their little pincer maneuver with the Revenant had eliminated a larger number of powerful individuals last time, the difference in quality was very large this time. “It would be better if the Revenant didn’t half-ass their support.” Another warrior with the number four grumbled.
They all looked at the contingent of thirty Revenant mages standing together at the back. The thirty were all very powerful, but not even close to the true extent of the Revenant’s magical power. “You can’t really expect them to throw their all to support our aims. They were happy to help us last time because the benefits to them were direct and obvious even if we would ultimately lose the spot in the first circle. They managed to eliminate many of their biggest competition with little cost to themselves. That said, the rewards we promised them are not enough for them to go down with us if it comes to that.” Anastasia explained.
“Go down with us?” The same number four warrior mocked. “Surely you don’t think we will lose?”
“It is not about whether we win or lose, but what it will cost us.” Teresa interjected. “How many of us will fall in order to gain victory? How many of us will have to push our power until we lose ourselves in madness? That is the real price to pay.” Teresa had a point. They all had the option of pushing themselves to greater strength and ensuring victory, but how many of them would return from the brink?
“We will have to see soon. They are starting.” Mariya stated and pointed at the Death Lords.
The necromancers had started calling their minions. Endless rows of skeletons were followed by much stronger undead in the form of Wights, Liches, ethereal Hexwraiths, Dark Riders and many more. Many undead creatures circled overhead, ranging from ghosts and skeletal carrion birds to mighty undead dragons. When called by necromancers of this level, even the simple skeletons were much stronger than the normal fare. They radiated dark negative energy and made it clear they were not simple walking piles of bones that would break easily. There was a glint of intelligence and instinct in their eyes and movements.
The vampires spread among the undead army, using the minions of the Spider Cult as shields and to hide their approach. Even though the vampires were powerful, they were not stupid and blinded by the bonds of ‘honorable combat’. They would strike from the shadows when given the chance. The undead horde moved forward as one, seemingly commanded by a single will. The Crimson Path and the Revenant mages prepared to face battle.
The battle never had the chance to begin as a heavy pressure suddenly descended on the battlefield suppressing them and everyone felt as if they were being roasted alive due to the heat that followed. They all tried to shield their sight from the glowing light that had appeared above the battlefield in the form of a small star radiating heat and power. It seemed that the power was tightly controlled though, as everyone felt only enough weight and heat to suppress them and no more. Something that suppressed Anastasia should’ve killed most of the weaker warriors, but that didn’t happen.
The only ones not affected seemed to be Teresa and the leader of the Vampires. That said, even Teresa was sweating and the vampire was clearly uncomfortable with the sun above. The light and heat slowly drew back enough to reveal the form of what looked like a sun condensed into the form of a man. “They actually sent a Solarian here.” Teresa hissed quietly.
The number one community in the Day city got its name from the most powerful members of their community. All of the members of the community were powerful and controlled the power of the sun, but there were still differences. The most powerful among them could turn entirely into the flaming forms and were basically small stars in humanoid form. They were called Solarians. One of them being here showed the seriousness of the number one community interfering in the struggle. If they had sent a more simple Lunarian to make an appearance, that would have left the others with some wiggle room. With a Solarian present, whatever he said would be the new reality of Day city.
Slowly the fiery form seemed to be condensed further into something that looked like a white-haired and tanned male human clad in armor made of solar fire. He was still a bright presence but now everyone present could look at him without going blind. “It’s the Young King! They sent the Young King to make an appearance!” Mariya stated enthusiastically. She was a fan of sorts.
The Solarian called the Young King wasn’t an actual monarch but had been given the title anyway. He was the youngest identified rank thirteen existence at merely a few hundred years of age. He had become something of a phenomenon outside the first circle, as he was one of the few Solarians often seen outside their enclave in the first circle. Nowadays if the Solarians wanted to make a statement, they usually sent the Young King to make it happen. This had been happening even before he became a rank thirteen existence, thus his quick rise in power had been observed by others with a growing dread. His nickname was partly because of his power and partly because his words carried the might of the Solarians.
“This struggle is over.” The Young King declared while effortlessly standing in the air. “The fight has gone on for long enough and you have done enough damage. Many of the second circle communities have fallen and you have shamed us in front of the great powers of the universe. The angels are laughing at your struggles while the Dragonflight looks at you with disdain and pity. We generally encourage struggle to foster growth but this has gone too far. Now it has turned from a chance to grow to destruction of potential.” While he spoke, the Young Kings voice felt like smooth silk but carried absolute confidence and authority.
“The winner has not yet been decided yet though.” One of the Death Lords pointed out rather bravely.
“Yes, it has.” The Young King shook his head at the ignorance of the Death Lord. “You have all plotted and connived, yet the fact remains that the Crimson Path still stands strong after all the enemies you thrown their way. They have earned the spot in the first circle and will be given the rank eight just above the Coven. The Coven will not contest this decision as they have their own problems to deal with. The Crimson Path will be given the lands once held by the dragon Xinglong. None of the other first circle communities is interested in moving anyway.”
“Wait a moment! Are you saying that we will be passed over simply because we used strategy to gain victory instead of raw power?” The leader of the Death Lords demanded indignantly.
“No, you’re being passed over because you are filthy necromancers. Even if we did nothing and you gained victory this day, the Celestial Emperor would wipe you out if you stepped into the first circle. His hatred for your kind is well known among us in the first circle. Feel fortunate that we aren’t forcing you out of the Day city altogether. Which brings me to the second point. We have a few declarations to make and you will spread the word. All the communities who migrated here from the Night city are commanded to return. We don’t care about your circumstances or what awaits you there. Return or face annihilation.
“This leaves many spots in the second circle open. Many communities were destroyed and many more reduced to a shadow of what they used to be. The leaving Night city communities will also leave spots open. The second circle communities that want to keep their positions are given ten years to recover. No community is allowed to challenge them during this time, but after the grace period, they are fair game once again. If the communities in question feel like they can’t recover enough in that time, they are encouraged to withdraw to the third circle or below. There is now space there as well. The remaining open slots will be populated by Day city communities from the third circle. Any challenges for position among the third circle communities seeking to come to the second circle are to be resolved by sending a maximum of ten people to fight for it, and the fights are not to the death.” The Young King made his declaration with a voice that was not loud but carried for extremely long distances. Anyone observing the battle here would hear it, and he expected them to spread the news. They would comply.
“I guess a celebration is in order?” Anastasia suddenly said to the stunned people around her.
“Not the kind of victory I wanted, but I will take it.” Teresa stated with a small shake of her head. She had been somewhat expecting the battle despite the losses that would happen. Still, a win was a win. “Inform our people that we should prepare to move immediately. We will celebrate once we arrive.
The Young King, on the other hand, had another problem. He was also supposed to find the whereabouts of the Living Mountain. Without the mountain, the value of the land the Scarlet Path would take over would reduce significantly. It was still the first circle with all that entailed, but the value without the mountain would be halved. There was a reason that none of the other first circle communities wanted to change spots. That said, most of them would not be moved even if the Living Mountain was still there. Unlike those in the other circles, the first circle communities had spent so much time and effort adapting the land they held to be perfect for them that moving was not worth it.
The Young King would not lose any sleep over it if the mountain was not found, but he still had a mission to complete. Yet he had few means for completing the mission. ‘Maybe I should seek out the Celestial Empress. She has the means to find what I’m looking for.’ He finally decided. He knew the empress had left, but he had his own ways of locating her.